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Women (And Children) Still Missing From Toronto's Budget

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For the first time ever in Canada, a major municipal government directed its top bureaucrat to create a gender-responsive budget, known as a GRB.

In July 2016, when Toronto City Council adopted a motion to build a better and more inclusive budget by incorporating a gender equity perspective, it was a bold and visionary move. Although the Toronto vote was not unanimous, it was adopted by a majority of municipal politicians.

Surprising notable among the naysayers, included Mayor John Tory.

kristyn wongtamMayor John Tory talks with Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam during a Toronto City Council meeting (Getty)

On the surface, it appears that Mayor Tory may not support gender fairness in the budget. However, I assume that there's something much simpler here. The practice of using a gender equity lens to create a GRB is still fairly new in Canada.

Mayor Tory may not yet understand how the tangible benefits of gender-responsive budgeting can help him build a more prosperous and globally competitive Toronto. Why else would he vote against creating a fairer and more equitable budget for 52 per cent of Toronto's population?

Let's consider how gender-responsive budgeting can help address Toronto's social inequities while strengthening our economy. The GRB was originally developed to address gender-bias in budgets, everything from how a government raises revenues to how it prioritizes the spending of public dollars.

The Greater Toronto Area generates one-fifth of Canada's GDP with $323 billion and is home to 40 per cent of Canada's business headquarters. On the surface, Toronto appears prosperous and modern-looking.

Toronto currently holds the shameful title of Canada's "child poverty capital," with 133,000 children living in poverty.

Upon closer inspection, residents  --  especially young families, newcomers and seniors, in particular are feeling the debt crush as rising transit, hydro, food and housing costs are forcing them into financial hardships. Toronto currently holds the shameful title of Canada's "child poverty capital," with 133,000 children living in poverty according to a 2016 report, Divided City: Life in Canada's Child Poverty Capital.

Despite the 2015 accolade heaped onto Toronto by the Economist Intelligence Unit as "the best place to live," the actual experience of the middle class family reveal a different narrative.

Torontonians have been feeling the economic crunch for over a decade, therefore it's no surprise when the 13th Annual Demographia Housing Affordability Survey list this fair city as the 13th least affordable housing market in the world, directly behind London, England. The overblown housing market is certainly felt by the young adults pinned to their parents' basement with record high student debt and their lives on hold while current employment markets are dominated by part-time and precarious work prospects.

toronto childcareMothers and their children at a Working Women Need Childcare protest in Toronto (Getty)

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released a 2016 report that included a look at childcare cost and found Canada to be among the most expensive for childcare among its 35 wealthy member nations.

In fact, Toronto has the most expensive childcare program in the nation as it costs approximately $24,000 per year per child with no relief in sight. Considering that it costs more to send your child to childcare than university and with almost 18,000 families on the wait list for childcare subsidies, it's no wonder that many families abandon their dream of having a second or third child.

Considering that women are the primary caregivers in their families, under-investment in childcare, systematically disadvantages a majority of the population.

Considering that women are the primary caregivers in their families, under-investment in childcare, systematically disadvantages a majority of the population and workforce which can't be a sustainable or smart business practice.

Toronto has an opportunity to change political directions and it appeared that when City Council voted to create a GRB in 2017, things could have changed. Since all budgets are constructed around social values and this is certainly the case with politically-charged government budgets, if the Toronto financial planning staff actually drafted a budget using gender-based analysis to eliminate bias against women and girls, they would have most likely recommended against Mayor Tory's insistence on a 2.6 per cent across the board budget cut as the adverse impacts are experienced in greater measure by women and girls.

Anyone with experience in developing GRBs will confirm that City Council's direction was ultimately not followed as there is no evidence of any real gender-based analysis in the 2017 budget. After several lengthy discussions with senior city staff, I am certain that GRB was not rejected intentionally as that will result in city staff defying the wishes of City Council, but rather because the bureaucracy has not yet developed a true gender equity lens to analyze and understand the actual gendered impacts of municipal finance.

Case in point, the bureaucratic and political commitment to spend $3.2 billion dollars on a one stop Scarborough extension subway where the immediate population and projected readership is on the decline and $1.4 billion dollars to rebuild the eastern portion of an elevated "hybrid" Gardiner expressway remains on the books.

In the preliminary 2017 budget, the proposed service cuts are directly aimed at the homeless, seniors, poor, youth, women and children.

In the preliminary 2017 budget, the proposed service cuts are directly aimed at the homeless, seniors, poor, youth, women and children. If gender-based analysis was actually incorporated in the development of the capital budget, staff recommendations would certainly have gone against overpriced infrastructure destined to serve mostly male, car-focused commuters and do more to assist Toronto's vulnerable residents, who are mostly racialized, newcomer, poor families including women and children living in far flung suburban neighbourhoods.

GRB ensures that government budgets, policies and programs address the needs and interests of all individuals belonging to various social groups. The intersectional gender-based analysis for any budget will need the consistent and ongoing collection of disaggregated data. This informs the foundation of GRB and will be used to intentionally address the gender bias that can arise while at the same time considers disadvantages inflicted as a result of ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, location, class or poverty status.

GRB can be organized in a myriad of ways by local residents, civil society groups, government staff and politicians. It is also not confined to a 'one-size fits all' ideology. Gender-based analysis can be used on any type of budget or financial planning tool including the ones Toronto is most familiar with, namely, Operating, Capital, Rate-Supported budgets.

toronto womens march60,000 women, girls and male supporters protest at the Women's March in Toronto on January 21, 2017(Getty)

Budgets are at the apex of policy tools available to governments because in the absence of money there can be no successful implementation of policy or services. This rings true in Toronto as we have developed some good policies on poverty reduction, affordable housing, transit, youth equity, age-friendliness, vision zero, cycling, public health etc., but in the absence of the necessary funding allocations, these policies are worth less than the paper it is printed on.

Gender-responsive budgeting has been championed by global empowerment think-and-do tanks such as UN Women and the International Development Research Centre. The innovative efforts to create national and local budgets from a gender-based analysis are growing everywhere  --  from Australia to Zimbabwe. Toronto is not leading the pack but rather trying to catch up.

We must do better next year to build a city that is fairer and more inclusive. We owe it to the hardworking families of Toronto, especially the women and girls.

It's absolutely clear that gender-responsive budgeting did not make it onto the 2017 budget despite City Council's direction. Failure by ignorance is forgivable once.

As the sun will surely rise again tomorrow, we must do better next year to build a city that is fairer and more inclusive. We owe it to the hardworking families of Toronto, especially the women and girls.

For more information about gender equity and gender-responsive budgets for Toronto, visit Toronto Women City Alliance. Follow the discussion on Twitter at #GenderEquityTO #TOpoli and #TObudget.

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